We know acupuncture works, but what exactly is going on that makes it work? This question is confounding for many members of the Western medical establishment, and because it can’t be explained, it is difficult for some doctors to recommend acupuncture to their patients as an effective alternative.
More and more studies are being conducted and concluding that acupuncture can be an effective treatment for a variety of conditions. The World Health Organization recognizes the effectiveness of acupuncture for dozens of illnesses, the Mayo Clinic has documented that acupuncture can relieve arthritic pain, and researchers continue to look at the positive role of acupuncture in the treatment of chronic back pain.
As a practitioner of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, I believe that acupuncture is a system of healing that is energetic in nature. My understanding is that every cell in our body produces energy, and that energy moves in pathways throughout the body. The energy surfaces at certain points, which are considered acupuncture points. Through the needling or manipulation of those points, a practitioner can stimulate the body to heal itself.
Western scientists, however, propose several theories that can explain the biomechanical mechanism through which acupuncture works. Most agree that during an acupuncture treatment, the central nervous system is stimulated, which releases chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. These chemicals may affect the body’s experience of pain, stimulate the body’s healing systems, and promote the sensation of well-being.
Some theories that may explain acupuncture’s effects include:
-Increases in the rate of electromagnetic signals which stimulate the flow of endorphins, or natural opiates in the brain, which decrease pain and induce sleep. These chemicals may also boost the body’s immune system.
-Stimulation of the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, which affect the nervous system, hormones, and functions such as sleep, body temperature and appetite.
-Involvement in the release of neurotransmitters, which stimulate or inhibit nerve impulses, which can have a direct impact on pain.
Until the results are definitive, researchers will continue to study the impact of acupuncture on the body. I look forward to the continued research, and in the meantime, I will continue to treat patients who know that acupuncture works for them and don’t care why.